Orlando through an Arab and (limited) Afghan media lens: Gays involved? Religion? No way!

Just so everyone knows where I'm going in this post, and to respond in advance to those who might accuse me of burying my lede, let me state here and now that the focus of this piece is about how media in the heart of the Muslim world -- the mostly Arab Middle East -- treated the Orlando massacre.

But first, this: The coverage in the United States and most of the world has been nothing short of overwhelming. The volume of information included in news stories, analysis and opinion pieces produced across the journalistic spectrum has been extraordinary.

Of course it wasn't flawless. How could it be when it had to puzzle together -- without having all the pieces -- the complexities of international terrorism, sexual orientation, cultural and religious influences, gun control and mass murder, presidential politics, the psychology of a twisted mind, and a state of almost unbearably sad raw emotion. Oh -- and doing it while under intense time and competitive pressures, and subject to instant online criticism.

So I'd say it's fair to conclude that today's unforgiving, report-first-confirm-it-later, 24/7 news cycle worked about as well as one can realistically hope it might. I tip my hat for a job well done to all those who worked from the scene and in news rooms to deliver this story of intense public interest.

Let's not overlook the good when perfection is out of reach. 

My reading of the preponderance of the coverage by mainstream, Western-oriented news operations was that it once again self-identified with the victims in the manner that follows every ugly manifestation of terrorist mass murder these days. What else could it do?

That is not to say there weren't pointed questions about America's politically sacrosanct gun culture. Or differences of opinion about the role played in Orlando by Islam and, in particular, the influence of the Islamic State.

Today, we are all Paris, Istanbul, Brussels, Mali, Kabul, Nigeria, Tel Aviv, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Syria, San Bernardino, etc., etc. There are far too many places to list them all.

Now, we're all Orlando. Who knows who we'll be in a week or two?

I make no claim to having read, watched and heard all the foreign reportage and opinionated analysis. To attempt that would have driven me mad, not to mention my linguistic limitations.

But I made a concerted effort to check up on the coverage emanating from the heart of the Islamic world, the Middle East. where news media generally operates under direct government control, or, at the least, under government constraints, including possible imprisonment or death. (For the record: I have now returned to this post's promised focus.) 

That means media reports most often reflect government attitudes, rather than independent reporting and conclusions. Not surprisingly, it differed greatly from what I've said above about Western-oriented news outlets.

I was greatly aided in my reading of Arab media by the highly regarded Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (more colloquially called the Washington Institute). It published a roundup of excerpts and links from Arab-language Orlando coverage and Arab government pronouncements.. Here's what it concluded:

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, news of the shooting featured prominently -- though not usually at great length -- in largely factual Arab press coverage. Much of this coverage avoided detailed description of the venue, including its well-known status as a gay club, instead referring very generally to Florida, Orlando, or a generic "nightclub." More specific references tended to use the neutral terminology "same sex" (jins mithli) rather than the pejorative descriptors commonly used in the Middle East ("sexually deviant" or "debauched"). This was true even in the generally conservative media of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where homosexual activity is often criminally prosecuted. An exception was Qatar's generally anti-Western Al Jazeera television, which persisted in using the label "deviant."
Arab coverage often emphasized the killer's Afghan American origins, accompanied by unflattering photos of him. At least two major Saudi dailies, al-Watan and the pan-Arab, London-based al-Hayat, headlined his alleged links to [Shiite] Hezbollah rather than his self-professed allegiance to the Islamic State. [Sunni, as are the great majority of Saudi Muslims and the monarchy].
Most commentary also speculated on the law-enforcement or political and electoral implications of the massacre. For example, a half-hour Sky News Arabia program on June 14 featured questions about whether the FBI let the killer slip through surveillance, and how the gun-control issue would play out in the U.S. presidential campaign.
There was surprisingly sparse discussion of Islamic angles to the story, including the potential for increased anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States. One op-ed in the leading Emirati daily al-Khaleej, took the atypical step of characterizing both the 9/11 attacks and the Orlando shooting as "the work of one terrorist, takfiri dogma," referring to the extremist practice of labeling all outsiders and even many fellow Muslims as "infidels."
This relatively limited media treatment of a potentially sensational story can likely be attributed to an unusual combination of factors. One is the region's presumed sensitivity or embarrassment about the incident's homosexual aspect. Another is the timing: the story broke during Ramadan, when religious coverage takes precedence, and it followed numerous other mass-casualty attacks involving Arabs in Damascus, Beirut, Sirte, Sanaa, Paris, and elsewhere.

I tried to track down some Afghan coverage as well (that would be non-Arab, of course), since Afghanistan is Orlando killer Omar Mateen's family's homeland. But I failed to turn up anything in English worth passing along. This may be why. Seems there's little domestic Afghan media to begin with, particularly not in English.

I did find this piece from The Diplomat, though it's not an Afghan outlet per se. It's a regional publication, with South Asia and Afghanistan among its key areas of interest. The byline is that of a top-ranking official in the Afghan foreign ministry.

The column emphasizes that Mateen was American-born and raised and had never even visited Afghanistan, so Afghanistan really had nothing to do with his actions. The piece never mentions that The Pulse, the gay club where Mateen acted out his savagery, is, in fact, a gay club. But it does note that Mateen wasn't a religious Muslim (in the writer's opinion) and that Orlando was just one in the string of mass shootings plaguing the U.S.

All pretty predictable, wouldn't you say?

I'd love to be proved wrong, but I'm guessing we'll witness similar differences between American and Western media coverage and that produced in Arab and Muslim-majority nations the next time this sort of terror attack happens. And it will.

I'd love to be proved wrong on that one, too. 

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